Why more FCA guidance on social media could free up financial services companies to be successful

Marketers in the  financial services industry were expecting the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to issue new guidelines about social media in the first quarter of 2014. But it hasn’t happened yet. The latest rumours we’ve heard suggest July is the earliest we’ll see something published.

There’s much speculation about what such guidance could contain. International organisations have to deal with very different regulatory burdens across borders. This means that they often try to conform to the highest standard in order to minimise the work of meeting different expectations across different markets. There is a view that US regulation will set the bar for the financial services industry in the UK. The UK’s current approach seems to be much more relaxed than America’s. So what will a change up in gear to the US model mean for UK firms?

Let’s take the example of targeting digital content to a professional audience. It is impossible to control exactly who sees what content online. You might create content with a particular audience in mind, but once it’s published, it’s out of the brand’s hands. Content can be republished in places, and to audiences, and with commentary that the brand never intended.

Traditionally UK brands have mitigated for this through audience gating. This is where a tweet is sent – obviously reaching an open audience on Twitter –  but which carries a link to content that’s only suited to a professional audience. Anyone who follows the link will find themselves at a landing page that demands they register their professional status and only then will they be able to see the content. In the UK, we’re well used to this on owned channels such as blogs but the practice is not supported in the US. What if the new regulations mean that audience gating is no longer allowed here?

A positive outcome could be that it forces brands to improve their communications. An audience gate is a device that can protect consumers from receiving information that is beyond their ken. But often, slapping a ‘for professional audiences only’ label on content can be a cop out. It can allow a brand to continue to use off-putting and dry industry jargon, at the expense of investing the time and effort to create fresh, clear and engaging content.

At a recent Financial Services Forum event, David McSpadden, Senior Vice President of Global Client Marketing from Franklin Templeton Investments (FTI) presented an excellent case study into how his organisation has approached social. Many steps will be familiar to those of you who have experience of developing and implementing social media strategies for financial services organisations – not just asset managers. McSpadden talked about starting small. About seeking to affirm that using social could reach investors that traditional media might miss. About using it to truly engage with clients. And about focusing on proving value from the very start.

On the first two points, FTI has not only found that it has reached new audiences, but its brand reach has improved exponentially. Its content gets reused, building followers and advocates. Social has also proved invaluable in taking its own brand stories further than traditional media or its website ever could. These are great – if not entirely unexpected – benefits of social.

But perhaps the most salutary point, given the potential impending changes to how financial services organisations can use social media, was almost an aside. By getting better at creating content for social, FTI has improved all of its marketing. It has worked on clearer language and cutting out jargon. It has helped them make their voice and their brand more accessible. Focusing on understanding the audience and the medium has allowed FTI to flourish in social in spite of regulation. Let’s hope that whatever the next set of social media guidance brings, UK businesses can do the same.